Aral Balkan, Teaching Programming to Kids

My really rough notes from Aral Balkan‘s presentation at #BeBettr. The usual disclaimer applies, things may be inaccurate. Plus uploaded from my iDevice, so expect mistakes (have you ever typed HTML through one of these things? Ouch).

Are we empowering a generation of computer literate creators or are we creating secretaries? He has a hunch it’s the latter. Anna Debenham will be talking about the current state of ICT but he wants to look at how to change it. See the BeBettr programme.

The curriculum is so poor, students are disinterested. They’re learning Microsoft technologies, Word, PowerPoint and other office related skills. This doesn’t excite anyone. It’s bad that this is people’s first experience of ICT.

BETT is a Microsoft/Windows-fest. There were no open source solutions. Even One Laptop Per Child wasn’t there. Aral will be askingĀ Ubuntu about why he didn’t see them there. If we replaced computers in school with One Laptop Per Child he thinks we might see a huge increase in digital literacy.

It’s not all doom and gloom, the BCS are trying to change things for the better.

If the teachers don’t know these basics then we have a problem. To get good teachers you must pay them well, a quote he showed:

“they’re paying peanuts, getting monkeys and having the nerve to complain about standards”

The Past

Education is a personal thing for Aral. What got him started was his first experience with a computer, it was magical for him. What is the magical thing for you that makes you love what you do? Think about it, use it.

He’s showing us some examples usingĀ BASIC, the first computer programmes he ever wrote. He was happy to see he could make the computer do what he wanted. He progressed quickly. As a seven year old he was creating star backgrounds using simple code and making cool games etc.


What can we do instead of teaching kids Word or Excel? How about some graphic tools? In Scratch he shows a figure of a cat that he wants to get interacting with the mouse. It’s all GUI based programming, you don’t need to code to programme.

The Future

Kids can start to code things in the browser today. He shows an example of simplified manipulations of HTML5 canvas. He’s doing pretty much the same thing as his other examples in BASIC and Scratch, but what if we get the objects we’re drawing in canvas to change size and rotation? Isn’t that more interesting for students to learn? What separates this from the other examples is this can be posted online for quick sharing with friends.

We have to make it fun, give them reusable skills and it would be better to use Open Source technologies. We’re not teaching secretarial skills, but skills that empower students. We must pay teachers what they’re worth and try to show the next generation that spark of magic that got us into the industry to start with.

Posted on Friday 14 January 2011.

Posted in BeBettr | 2 comments »

2 Responses to “Aral Balkan, Teaching Programming to Kids”

  1. [...] no secret that I feel that tech education in England is terribly broken and that we should be teaching kids to be digitally fluent, not just literate. In essence, we [...]

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